Covid threatens to unwind progress in women rights crusade

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021 00:00 |
A nurse takes care of a Covid-19 patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit of the university hospital. Photo/AFP

Dr Abdiqani Sheikh Omar

At the onset of last year, few of us anticipated what lay ahead. Covid-19 pandemic declared in March caused unprecedented disruptions to all spheres of life and led to uncertainty and apprehension globally.

While Covid continues to have devastating impact on every sphere of life across the world’s communities, women and girls have particularly borne the brunt of it, exacerbating already-existing gender inequality and laying bare serious fault lines in safety, physical and mental health, education, domestic responsibilities and employment opportunities for the fair gender.

The virus has massively disrupted decades-old progress towards women’s rights and gender equality in Africa.

The pandemic and measures put in place by governments to curb its spread have impacted women, men, girls and boys differently.

There has been a significant increase in reports of gender-based violence (GBV) while anecdotal evidence suggests the number of child marriages, teen pregnancies and other harmful practices against girls has risen.

A study by UN Women, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners in seven countries in the East and Southern Africa, last year, showed that more than 60 per cent of women and men in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa experienced a complete loss or decline in incomes due to the pandemic.

This deepened already high poverty rates in many countries and entrenched the gender disparity of women being more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.

The female poverty rate, pre-Covid was projected to be 10 per cent this year, but this has since been revised to 13. 

Child healthcare services, pre-natal care for women, services relating to chronic illnesses, and sexual and reproductive health care, including family planning and HIV prevention services, were negatively affected by the pandemic. 

In Kenya, nearly 60 per cent of women and more than 50 per cent of men could not access healthcare services for their children.

In South Africa and Mozambique, less than 20 per cent of women accessed family planning and other reproductive health services during the pandemic, with some staying away for fear of contracting Covid. 

School closures have had devastating effects on girls like enrollment and learning outcomes decreased or dissipated.

Schools are among the strongest social networks for adolescent girls, providing peers and mentors and when girls are cut off from the networks, their risk of violence increases.

In contexts where gender norms limit girls access to the tools needed for remote learning, they may fall behind their male peers while schools are closed. 

Women in Somalia have stepped in to meet the needs of communities due to death and displacement of male relatives from conflicts, largely.

Women head about half of households and, generate an estimated 70 per cent of household income.

Gender inequality which prevents women from fulfilling their potential worsens during crises. 

During Covid lockdowns, many women who run small-scale businesses in the streets of Mogadishu were affected.

The closure of airports and seaports made many of the goods they sell unavailable. Consequently, then, the women have lost income.

At the same time, women’s lower literacy rates and access to technology makes it even more difficult to provide them with the information they need to protect themselves and families from infection. 

For Africa to succeed, the rights and privileges of the girl child must be restored. — The writer is a senior WASH Strategic Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Energy and Water in Somalia and former director general at Ministry of Health and Human Service, FGs

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